With tuition to pay, dorm essentials to buy, and general back-to-school shopping, you’re probably wondering, can college get anymore expensive?? Yes, yes it can. Possibly more stressful than college move-in day is textbook buying for your classes. It isn’t like high school where you got your textbooks for free and had to give them back at the end of the year (sorry, we’ve kissed those days goodbye the instant we bought our colleges’ crewnecks and sweatshirts). Textbooks are expensive! My freshman year, I spent close to $500 buying textbooks for my classes — some of them were absolutely necessary for homework; some of them I would’ve been completely lost in class without; and some of them just sat there. Yep, took up valuable space on my already cluttered desk and collected dust.
Since saving money in college is literally a breath of fresh air, I’ve compiled all the textbook buying tips I’ve amassed over these last few years of going through it. WARNING: tips in this blog post may be more awesome than they seem!
1. Avoid buying textbooks before the first day of class.
I was always that kid who thought that because a textbook was listed for a class it meant that it was necessary, and therefore I must buy it. Sophomore year I was so annoyed when I ordered like three different textbooks for ONE class only to have the professor tell us during the first week that we won’t be using the books at all! As you can imagine, that’s a huge waste of money. Your professors might tell you that you won’t be using a textbook, or they might tell you which ones are actually useful for the class, so don’t plan ahead by buying your books before classes start!
2. Avoid getting textbooks from your university’s bookstore.
It’s no secret that items on campus are outrageously overpriced, and textbooks are no exception. Don’t be surprised if you see your school’s $100 textbook elsewhere for like $85. Buy a book from the school bookstore if you really can’t get it cheaper elsewhere, or if the book you need was written by your professor (in which case, there’s no way you can get it elsewhere!).
3. Talk to students who took the class before you did.
Ask them if they used their textbook (and how often), and if the book is necessary at all. Some questions I like to ask are: where did you originally get the book and how much did you pay? How did you use the book to study (i.e. outline chapters, highlighted, etc.)? Did the book help you understand the class material better? Can I still understand the material and do well in the class without the book? You can even ask if they’d sell their old textbook to you.
4. Do you need the textbook for homework?
If your textbook is essential for completing homework assignments, then unless you can find a free copy online you’re going to have to get a physical book. Some classes only give you assigned textbook reading as homework, but I have found that whether or not you actually spend three hours doing the reading, it isn’t even helpful for some classes because the professor might not go over it, or what you learned in class that day is different from what you read in the textbook. If this sounds like the type of ‘homework’ you need your textbook for then you should probably skip it. But sometimes you just can’t get out of getting the book…For my Italian class freshman year, all homework assignments were online and we needed a unique access code that CAME WITH THE TEXTBOOK in order to complete homework, so watch out for that!
5. Is the textbook only going to be used as a reading supplement in the class?
This is kind of what I was talking about before. The textbook is only a little extra reading in case you get lost in the material, and even though the professor assigns it on the syllabus, he or she doesn’t ever refer to it in class. You should use your discretion for this one. Give yourself a few weeks and if you think that you might fall behind on the material then you can decide to get the textbook.
6. Rent books instead of buying them.
This is a super easy way to save money — even at your school’s bookstore! Most of the rentals I’ve gotten were less than $15 each, and the most expensive book I’ve ever rented ended up being $40 by itself. Just remember to return your textbooks at the end of the semester so you won’t be charged extra for it! There are also websites that let you rent textbooks, but more on that later.
7. Rent + Used = match made in heaven.
Sure, you can rent a brand spanking new textbook that has that new book smell, OOOOOOOR you can pay even less for renting a used textbook. The price difference may not be super dramatic, but if you love being as frugal as college students come, every dollar counts! This is my preference when it comes to spending money on books so much so that if a bookstore associate tells me that I can only rent the book if it’s new I’m actually very disappointed! Usually, used textbooks might have a few sticky notes on random pages, some underlining, and some highlighting, but there’s nothing too serious like pages falling out, ripped book covers, or mold growing between pages. You can write in the textbooks so long as it isn’t a copious amount to make the bookstore decide to not take the book back.
8. Intensely search for a free copy online.
Don’t give up if you can’t find a PDF to your textbook after viewing search results on page one!!!! I personally can be really impatient when I can’t find the results I’m looking for and I just give up and succumb to paying extra money for my books, but maybe if I had dug a little deeper — taken even just an extra 40 minutes to search online — I might’ve been able to find PDFs to a couple of books. I know surfing the web for free copies of textbooks isn’t the most appealing thing to search for (trust me, I’d much rather be drooling over pretty notebooks, planners, and cupcake recipes online) but giving this a good shot can definitely save you some major dough!
9. See if you can borrow the book from your school’s library.
I had no idea that some textbooks were actually available in my school’s library!! I was contemplating renting this expensive textbook for one of my journalism classes last semester, when a classmate of mine told me that he just checked out that textbook from our university library. Needless to say, I abandoned any intention of putting up money for that book and hauled ass to library to snag a copy for myself. Before you even think about renting the match made in heaven, see if the library has the book so you can borrow it for an entire semester for just $0. My one caveat with this is that if the library does happen to have the textbook, it likely only has one or two copies, so you need to jump on that before anyone else does!
10. Buy textbooks from students who are selling theirs.
Many older students sell their textbooks on Facebook, so you should definitely pay attention for an opportunity to buy a used book from a peer. Even though they want cash for their books, they aren’t going to charge you an arm and a leg because they know that if they were in your position, they’d likely say, “hell no” and walk away from that price. Don’t underestimate the power of empathy, my friends. Sometimes they’ll even throw in a study guide or class notes, so you might actually get some bang for your buck.
11. Order books online.
After I completely screwed myself over freshman year from buying all my textbooks NEW from the BOOKSTORE, I decided to give online textbook ordering a try, and for the most part, I was very satisfied. Last semester, I spent no more than $120 total on textbooks. I rented used copies of EVERYTHING I decided to get, and I actually felt like I had come out on top of this wild textbook hunt for once. I used Chegg.com because my roommate used it the semester before and it just seemed really easy — search for your books, create an account, order. At the end of the semester, you just log back into your account to print out the shipping label to return the books, pack them into a box (doesn’t have to be the one they arrived in), slap the label on there, mail it out and boom, you’re good to go. My Chegg order also came with some free samples of things like Vitamin C supplements, Tide laundry pods, and a coupon to use on this website I can’t remember the name of! That was a pretty nice surprise. What are some other online services you’ve had success with for renting or buying books? I’d love to know in the comments!
12. Avoid sharing textbooks with your friends or other students.
I know, you’ll get to save some money because you might both pay for half of it, or maybe your friend already got it and agreed to let you use it from time to time, but this can actually be really inefficient, especially if you actually need the textbook for a good chunk of the semester. You’ll have to go through the stress of figuring out a textbook sharing plan, and there could be conflict if you both paid for half of it but one of you doesn’t get as much textbook time as the other does. You’re better off finding some other way to have access to the textbook, trust me.
13. Find the price that best suits you.
Sometimes you’ll have to do a little extra work to find the best deal on a textbook you’ve decided to pay for. What’s most important is what you can afford and what you’re willing to pay, so don’t feel like you need to make decisions about textbook purchases as soon as you set foot on campus!
What are your tips for buying college textbooks and getting the best deals?